BUI Defense Lawyers for Melbourne, Florida (FL)
Recreational and commercial boating is a way of life in Florida for many people that live across the state. Per the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, it estimates that water-related activities such as fishing, hunting, recreational boating, and viewing wildlife bring into the state about $20 million and roughly 300,000 jobs on an annual basis.
Many people in Florida are attracted to the water, where luxury homes are located along the coastline, and where residential communities continue to be developed around lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers. Given Melbourne’s connection to boating and water, it is not surprising that people decide to operate a boat under the influence, also known as BUI, which is a serious problem in the state that is associated with serious legal consequences.
If you are facing BUI charges in Melbourne, you need zealous representation. Contact the seasoned Melbourne BUI defense lawyers at Musca Law today at (888) 484-5057 to learn more about your legal rights and options.
Boating Under the Influence in Brevard County, Florida
Melbourne is well-known across the country for its vibrant nightlife and relaxing atmosphere. This leads some people to consume alcohol or drugs and go boating, believing that having a few drinks is completely safe. Given the exhilarating nature of boating, it sometimes influences people to think that nothing bad could happen. However, national statistics suggest that many people underestimate the risks associated with boating, even when they are not impaired by drugs or alcohol.
Drinking alcohol or consuming drugs affects boaters in the same way that it affects drivers of motor vehicles. It can cause an individual to have trouble concentrating and experience difficulty in reacting in a timely fashion and responding in a quick manner when certain hazards are present. Specifically, boaters who are impaired by drugs or alcohol, just like when people consume alcohol or drugs and drive a motor vehicle, have trouble perceiving the actual speed that they are traveling, and also experience difficulty appreciating the speed at which other vessels are going in the water. Even though the open waters typically have ample space, boats, unlike automobiles, cannot stop in a rapid fashion. Therefore, a boater who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol may not be able to understand the distance necessary to avoid hitting another object such as a swimmer, jet ski, boat, or other type of watercraft.
BUI Law in Melbourne, Florida
Pursuant to Florida Statutes Section 327.25, it is illegal to operate a boat or other type of watercraft when under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both. Like with driving a motor vehicle, it is not illegal to drink and operate a boat. In other words, Florida does not have a per se law that prohibits people from consuming alcohol and engaging in boating. In the alternative, Section 327.25 provides that a person who is operating a boat is guilty of BUI when one of the following elements exist:
- The individual’s normal faculties are impaired by drugs, alcohol, or both;
- The individual’s breath alcohol concentration is 0.08 grams in 210 liters of breath; or
- The individual’s blood alcohol concentration is 0.08 grams per 100 milliliters of blood.
When prosecuting BUI cases, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the presence of one of the above elements in order to secure a conviction.
Melbourne BUI Penalties
As with any offense, the penalties for BUI in Melbourne depend upon the specific nature and set of circumstances surrounding the crime. Specifically, the punishment for BUI (without the presence of aggravating factors or enhancements as discussed below) is a prison term of at least six months and a maximum monetary fine of $1,000. The offense also carries with it a probationary period for a maximum of one year. The person who is convicted of BUI must also undergo 50 hours of community service during the term of probation.
There may be enhancements to the crime that occur with each subsequent BUI conviction. For instance, if a person is charged with a second BUI, the term of imprisonment is for a maximum of nine months with a monetary fine imposed of up to $2,000. Probation may also apply. Keep in mind that the judge is required to sentence the repeat offender to ten days in county jail if the second BUI occurred within five years of the current conviction. The offender may be able to serve a part of the ten-day sentence during the weekend as long as 48 hours are served on a consecutive basis.
The maximum penalties increase with each subsequent conviction. For example, for a third BUI, if one of the prior two convictions happened within the past ten years prior to the current one, then the offender with be charged with a third-degree felony. A felony in the third degree is associated with a prison sentence of up to five years, coupled with a maximum monetary fine of $5,000. However, the crime is charged as a first-degree misdemeanor should the previous BUI occur outside of the ten-year lookback period. The maximum penalty for a first-degree misdemeanor conviction is a one-year jail term and a monetary fine of up to $5,000.
A fourth or subsequent BUI offense constitute third-degree felonies, and there is no limitation that is applicable to when the prior convictions occurred. In other words, Florida law dictates that there is a lifetime lookback period for four or more BUI convictions. This results in the offender serving a five-year prison term and a monetary fine levied of up to $5,000.
Keep in mind that under Florida law, the Melbourne prosecution can seek enhanced criminal penalties in a BUI case where the offender had a previous DUI conviction, also known as driving while impaired.
Additional Penalties for BUI in Melbourne
Imprisonment is the most serious penalty a person could face after a conviction for BUI. Various components of the punishment scheme, as provided above, include community service, fines, adult education courses, and probation. The judge may, in his or her discretion, also order the convicted offender to attend alcohol or drug treatment programs, whether on an inpatient or outpatient basis, depending upon the facts and circumstances of the case. The offender must pay for his or her treatment, despite the fact that the judge ordered him or her to do so.
Melbourne Aggravated BUI Charges
Florida’s DUI law is nearly the same as its BUI law. As in prosecutions for DUI, the Melbourne prosecution can pursue aggravated BUI charges against an individual if he or she is found to have a BAC 0.15% or more, or if children under the age of eighteen are aboard the vessel when the boater was stopped by law enforcement. In these instances, the individual will be sentenced to a maximum of nine months in prison and be ordered to pay a maximum monetary fine of $2,000. A second aggravated BUI conviction constitutes a first-degree misdemeanor, which carries with it a prison sentence of up to one year and a maximum monetary fine of up to $4,000. Any additional offense is associated with a one-year prison sentence and a monetary fine of not less than $4,000.
Boating Accidents Involving Alcohol in Melbourne
Even a minor collision can have deadly consequences. Any accident that occurs between two boats may cause passengers to be ejected from the boat, or could cause the vessel to capsize. Many people who are riding in a boat have the mistaken belief that they will be able to swim to safety if they are thrown from a boat. But when a person is ejected in an unexpected and violent manner, the situation could become deadly. Specifically, the person could become disoriented or injured, or is intoxicated and unable to appreciate the dangers of entering the water without a life jacket. The boat operator could be held liable for any resulting injuries or the death of a passenger who was ejected from the boat.
A boater could face serious BUI charges if law enforcement has probable cause to believe that he or she caused an accident while impaired by drugs or alcohol. Specifically, if a person causes property damage or minor bodily injury as a result of BUI, he or she could face first-degree misdemeanor charges, which is associated with a prison term of up to one year, and a maximum monetary fine of $1,000. The penalties become enhanced based upon the severity of the incident. For instance, an impaired boater who causes an accident involving severe bodily injury to others (including his or her passengers) will be charged with a third-degree felony, which carries with it a prison term of up to five years and a maximum monetary fine of $5,000.
If a boater who is impaired causes an accident where a person died, this is known as BUI manslaughter, which constitutes a second-degree felony in Florida. A conviction for a second-degree felony carries with it a maximum prison sentence of fifteen years and a monetary fine of up to $10,000. A BUI manslaughter charge is elevated to a first-degree felony if the boater failed to stop, identify himself or herself, and render aid to injury victims. A first-degree felony conviction carries with it a prison term of up to thirty years and a maximum monetary fine of $10,000. The state, in this instance, does not need to prove that the boater knew that a person died in order to secure a first-degree felony conviction. Conversely, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was a crash and the boater did not stop and identify himself or herself and render aid to injury victims.
“Operation” of a Vessel Defined
BUI and DUI laws in Florida are extremely similar however, they are different in one integral way. Specifically, the state’s BUI laws do not require the prosecutor to prove that the boater was behind the wheel or at the helm of the boat when stopped by law enforcement, or some other event occurs. Essentially, the state’s BUI laws are broader than its DUI laws (where the person behind the wheel is deemed in control of the vehicle necessary to be charged with DUI) given maritime traditions of a captain who is responsible for the safety of the crew and for the safe passage of the vessel.
Law Enforcement in Melbourne BUI Cases
A person who is placed under arrest by a Melbourne law enforcement officer due to being impaired by drugs or alcohol can only be detained for a certain period of time. Specifically, a person who is arrested will be released when his or her faculties have been restored, eight hours have passed, or until his or her BAC goes down to 0.05% or below. Until such time, the person will remain behind bars in order to prevent harm to the public.
Law enforcement in Melbourne have wide latitude to stop boaters on the water. For instance, an officer can stop a boater in order to conduct a safety and registration check. The officer has the authority to use the safety check as a way to conduct a more intrusive search should the circumstances warrant. Notwithstanding, the officer cannot detain a boater for an unreasonable time period. Essentially, the officer must release the boater once he or she determines that the boat passes a safety and registration check.
Notwithstanding, the officer may observe additional things during a stop. For example, the officer may observe that the operator of a boat is slurring speech, is confused, smells like alcohol, or notices other signs of impairment. Moreover, the officer may find that there are alcohol containers in the boat that are in plain view. Under these set of circumstances, an officer can conduct a more intrusive search, which may include asking the boater to submit to a field sobriety test and a portable breath test. Failing these tests enables the officer to place the boater under arrest for BUI.
Defenses to Melbourne BUI Charges
Operating a boat on the open waters in Florida does not necessarily mean that the boater has waived his or her constitutional rights. Specifically, the prosecution has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the boater is guilty of BUI in Melbourne. In other words, the boater is not automatically deemed guilty of this offense.
A skilled Melbourne BUI defense attorney will review the facts of the case and establish the strongest defense strategy allowable by law. For example, the defense could challenge the prosecutor’s assertion that the individual facing the BUI charges was actually operating the vessel, as required under Florida law. In essence, a person on a boat may be impaired however, if he or she is not operating the boat at the time of the arrest, then the state has not met the requisite burden of proof. There is no law in Florida that prohibits a boat passenger from consuming alcohol and being impaired.
In addition, the officer’s observations can also be challenged. Notwithstanding the officer’s efforts, they are not always accurate in their assumptions. Specifically, they may be quick to judge a given situation and decide not to conduct a more in depth investigation. In fact, they may seek BUI charges without conducting a field sobriety test, or they could ask the boater to submit to a field sobriety test that was performed in an unfair manner (due to water conditions, injury, or disability). An officer may also fail to follow established procedures such as a blood or breath test to determine the boater’s actual level of impairment.
Musca Law’s Melbourne BUI Defense Lawyers are Ready to Help you Now
If you are facing charges for boating under the influence, our Melbourne defense attorneys are ready to help you launch the strongest defense case possible. The repercussions of a BUI charge can negatively impact a person’s life for years to come. That is why it is critical that you contact a seasoned Melbourne BUI defense attorney who can help you fight for your legal rights and interests.
Contact Musca Law to discuss the facts and circumstances of your case. Call (888) 484-5057 to schedule a complimentary consultation and to learn how our experienced Melbourne BUI defense lawyers can fight for you.